An investment in habitat conservation could be a smart one for fisheries and the economies that depend on them, according to a new report.
In More Habitat Means More Fish, released this week by Restore Americas Estuaries, the American Sportfishing Association and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the link between healthy habitats and strong fisheries is made clear: without feeding or breeding grounds, fish cannot grow or reproduce, which means fewer fish and a decline in fisheries-dependent jobs, income and recreational opportunities.
Most of the nation’s commercial and recreational fish depend on coastal and estuarine habitats for food and shelter. Investments and improvements in these habitats can have immediate and long-lasting effects on fish populations.
The construction of an oyster reef, for instance, can provide food and shelter to a number of aquatic species. The conservation of marshes and underwater grass beds can boost the number and diversity of fish and their prey. And the restoration of fish passage to once-blocked rivers can open up new habitat to those species that must migrate upstream to spawn.
“Investing in coastal and estuarine habitat restoration is essential… for the long-term future of our fisheries,” said Restore Americas Estuaries President and CEO Jeff Benoit in a media release. “In order to have fish, we have to have healthy habitat. If we want more fish, we need more healthy habitat.”
Read more about More Habitat Means More Fish.
In the Chesapeake Bay, the river meets the sea. Freshwater and saltwater mix. Countless fish, birds and mammals find a home, a rest stop or a place to raise their young. All in one of the most productive ecosystems on earth—and the largest estuary in the United States!
Celebrate National Estuaries Week with this list of eight reasons the Chesapeake Bay is exceptional.
Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey Landsat/Flickr
8. Its size. The Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and the third largest in the world. It is about 200 miles long and holds more than 18 trillion gallons of water, some from the Atlantic Ocean and some from the 150 streams, creeks and rivers that drain into its watershed. This fresh and saltwater mix supports more than 2,700 species of plants and animals.
7. Its shorelines. The Bay and its tidal tributaries have 11,684 miles of shoreline—more than the entire U.S. west coast! Shorelines support a number of unique critters, like the diamondback terrapins that dig shallow nests in the sand, the horseshoe crabs that spawn on Bay beaches or the shorebirds that have long legs and an appetite for fish, clams and other aquatic snacks. Shorelines also allow people to reach the water to swim, fish and walk on the sand. There are close to 800 existing access sites along the shorelines of the Bay and its tributaries, and groups like the National Park Service are working to add more.
Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region/Flickr
6. Its geology. While the Bay itself lies within the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the watershed spans two more geologic regions: the Piedmont Plateau and the Appalachian Province. This means watershed residents don’t have to travel far to spot plants, insects and animals that inhabit different landscapes, whether it is the Delmarva fox squirrel that favors the flat lowlands of the Delmarva Peninsula or the black bear that prefers the mountains and valleys of the Appalachian foothills.
5. Its wetlands. About 284,000 acres of tidal wetlands grow in the Bay region. These wetlands provide critical habitat for fish and shellfish, who use the protected areas as nurseries or spawning grounds, and for birds, who use wetlands to find food, cover and, in the case of migrating waterfowl, a winter home. Wetlands also slow the flow of pollutants into the Bay and its tributaries, stabilize shorelines and protect properties from flooding.
4. Its forests. Forests cover 55 percent of the Bay watershed and provide critters on land and in the water with food and shelter. Bald eagles, for instance, build two-ton treetop nests near the water, while brook trout depend on the shade of streamside trees to cool their underwater habitat. Forests also support the economies of watershed states. Forestry is the second largest industry in the Pennsylvania and Virginia and the fifth largest in Maryland.
Image courtesy Becky Gregory/Flickr
3. Its waterfowl. Close to one million ducks, geese and swans spend their winters on the Bay. The birds, which make up about one-third of the Atlantic coast’s migratory population, stop here to feed and rest during their annual migration along the Atlantic Flyway.
2. Its seafood. The Bay produces about 500 million pounds of seafood each year. The watershed’s well-known catches include the blue crab, which is popular steamed or picked and turned into a crab-cake, and the eastern oyster, which is harvested in colder months and eaten raw, fried or even baked with spinach and bacon. Striped bass and Atlantic menhaden are also important catches for commercial markets.
1. Its people. The Bay watershed is home to more than 17 million people, with 150,000 moving into the watershed each year. There are watermen, fishermen and farmers. There are hikers, bikers and boaters. There are teachers, beach-goers and seafood-eaters. And many of them work to restore the natural resources in the watershed. Whether you take a tip from us to make Bay-friendly changes at home or attend an event to clean up your local waterway, you, too, can help restore the Bay—and celebrate National Estuaries Week!
Eighty-five percent of the Chesapeake Bay’s shoreline is privately owned, and often lined with hardened bulkhead or riprap to protect the land from erosion and sea level rise. But scientists throughout the Bay region are giving waterfront property owners an alternative option to shoreline hardening that protects properties while also preserving habitat and clean water in the Bay.
Hardened edges along the Bay and its rivers reduces natural shoreline habitat that fish and other marine animals depend on for food and shelter.
To counter this trend, shoreline restoration efforts have moved towards the use of “living shorelines,” which use natural habitat elements like marsh grasses and oyster reefs instead of hardened structures to stabilize and protect shorelines. Popularity of the term “living shorelines” and its technique has now spread to coasts and estuaries throughout the country.
Living shorelines have been installed for more than 20 years in the Chesapeake region because they provide habitat and protect clean water. Today, research continues into how quickly living shorelines assume the “natural” ecological functions of marshes.
In 2006, scientists with the Chesapeake Bay Trust and NOAA Restoration Center began a study on the Severn, South and West/Rhode rivers near Annapolis, Maryland, and the Miles River on Maryland's Eastern Shore, to assess the ecological impacts of installing living shorelines.
"One of the reasons we conducted this study was to help determine how using living shorelines, instead of armor, would impact fish, crabs, and other wildlife in these tributaries and the Bay," said Dr. Jana Davis, chief scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Trust. "We think there is going to be a positive impact, both when living shorelines are used in new shoreline protection and in replacement of existing armor with greener techniques."
In one part of the study, scientists sampled fish, crabs and shrimp, as well as sediment grain sizes and water depths, at two sites on College Creek: a bulkhead slated to be turned into a living shoreline, and a natural marsh located nearby.
At the bulkhead, 14 different species were collected, while at the marsh, 18 species were collected. Not only were there more types of different species at the marsh, but they were present in larger numbers. In particular, spot, mummichogs and grass shrimp populations were much higher at the marsh.
Two months after the sampled bulkhead was removed and a living shoreline was installed, scientists found that densities of mummichogs and grass shrimp, as well as pumpkinseeds, had increased at the living shoreline site.
“The results of the College Creek study showed that certain species are able to respond almost immediately to the installation of living shorelines,” Davis said.
Results of another part of this study, which compared five different habitat types at two locations in the Rhode River, suggested that living shoreline designs should include multiple habitat elements to maximize the number of different species that can use the area. For instance, oyster reefs served as the greatest refuge for molting blue crabs, while vegetation was used as a nursery area more than the other habitat structures monitored.
These and other studies on living shorelines were presented at the December 2006 Living Shoreline Summit, which brought 10 organizations together for two days to discuss what is known and what still needs to be learned about living shoreline science, management and policy in the Chesapeake region.
Participants at the Living Shoreline Summit developed nine major recommendations for living shoreline research, management tools, planning and policy. These include using social marketing concepts to promote living shorelines; identifying financial incentive opportunities for property owners; and encouraging governments to install living shorelines on their lands.
For more about living shorelines and the findings of the Living Shoreline Summit, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s website.
If you’re at the National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration in Providence, you can see the presentation “Next Steps in Living Shoreline Restoration: Taking Lessons from North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Florida to the National Level” on Monday, Oct. 14 at 1:30 a.m. in room 553, and the presentation “Moving Living Shoreline Policy Forward: A Panel and Audience Discussion” the same day at 3:30 p.m. in room 553.